Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the internet: Zombie slugs

I could lie and say I’ve been busy since my last post, but I’ve actually just been sitting around in my pyjamas playing Candy Crush. Sometimes I need a break. So, meh.

Anyway, I thought I’d get my shit together this week and get some jobs done. I was up early, all perky and annoying and heavily caffeinated when I came across this news article about zombie slugs taking over the country.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you’ll know that due to my heavy clay soil and mild climate, I am constantly up to the eyeballs in the slimy fuckers and have basically given up trying to grow many of the things they love to eat. This news article is not really news to me; we haven’t had a cold winter for a couple of years and it’s been very wet. Ideal conditions for slugs to thrive.

I have tried various things over the years; slug traps, grit, eggshells, coffee grounds, copper tape, organic slug pellets, nematodes, napalm (OK, that one is a lie); NOTHING WORKS. The only thing that you can do if you are truly overrun is to go out every night with a torch and a bucket of boiling hot soapy water and pick them all up by hand. This way you can also leave the good guys, like leopard slugs which are cannibals.

The best of British luck to you if you’re trying to grow any lupins or hostas this year. I’m not going to bother!

More cheerful update on my allotment tomorrow.

Organic gardeners are brutal killers

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A lot of people associate organic gardening with hippies. We care about wildlife and the environment. We are sandal-wearing vegetarians who don’t shave and go to CND protests when we’re not growing our own free-range quinoa and avoiding showers. (I am a sandal-wearing vegetarian but I have definitely showered this morning).

Well, here is the truth. If you want to control pests organically then you need to be prepared to kill things. Sometimes with your bare hands, and sometimes by unleashing hordes of predators onto your plot.

This morning I got another catalogue through the post. No need for sunglasses this time as it was not full of garish bedding plants. This one was from Gardening Naturally and it is packed full of cool stuff for your veg patch.

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Death, death, death, death and death.

The biological control section is fantastically written, using words like ‘kill’, ‘attack’, ‘gruesome’ and ‘suck prey empty’. AMAZING. This makes organic gardening sound like a Michael Bay movie starring Nicolas Cage (OK, maybe not quite so many explosions). I don’t know who wrote the blurb on their website but I would love to buy them a pint.

BRB, just going to order one of everything from the biological control section so I can unleash destruction and death onto all the pests in my garden and allotment plot.

I’ll prob need a veggie burger after that.

What are scale insects and more importantly how do I get rid of them?

 

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One of these branches is not like the others…

I noticed the other day that one of my hazel trees had a lot of scale insects on some of the branches. You can see that this was inhibiting the growth of the leaves.

Scale insects are tiny little bugs. If you’re saying ‘awwww! Tiny bugs!’ at this point then stop- they look like some kind of hideous fungal growth. Not cute.

There are a lot of different species of scale insect and so many plants are at risk.

I’m sure there’s some kind of chemical spray that will kill them, but I’m doing this the organic way. Picking them off by hand and squishing them is an effective and satisfying way to get rid.

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Stop ruining my tree, you little bastards.

 

Oh, great

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I didn’t take this photo. The slugs in my garden all get squashed.

 

The slug invasion is coming! So say the experts.

Thanks to the super-mild winter, this year is predicted to be one of the worst ever for slugs and snails. Well, the best ever from their point of view.

So; order your nematodes, build your hedgehog dens, dig your wildlife ponds, and put up your bird nesting boxes. This is war!!

 

 

A feast for our feathery friends

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Due to inflation, bird food is no long tuppence a bag.

This weekend we are taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch (there’s still time to sign up!), so in preparation I took the girls into town to buy a couple of fatballs. But I ended up getting a lot more due to cute bird pictures on the packaging; my children are totally susceptible to advertising and I am totally susceptible to ‘pleeeeeease, mummy’.

It was -5C here last night, which is pretty nippy for Cambridgeshire (I haven’t told my in-laws in Winnipeg because they will laugh and ask if I’ve been sunbathing). In this cold weather, feeding birds is really important for their survival. It’s also beneficial to the garden to have birds around- they eat slugs, snails and caterpillars, and I hate all of those things. Well, maybe not the cute, fuzzy caterpillars.

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Bird restaurant.

It’s easy to encourage birds into your garden; make sure they have safe places- trees, shrubs or other high places; something to eat, either a bird feeder or natural food (organic gardening helps here!), and somewhere to drink and bathe, such as a bird bath or a pond with a shallow area. A bird box isn’t essential but it definitely helps- there are several different designs available that suit different species.

So, the food is out and we are all ready to get counting tomorrow. Who else is joining us?

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Expect scenes like this in my garden soon.

 

 

 

Invasion and killing spree

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This is about as active and alert as he ever gets

Last night, my fat, lazy, fairly elderly cat got in an ill-advised fight. I ran out to rescue him (and to avoid a hefty vet bill for injuries) and was faced with a horrific sight. It had been raining. I was being INVADED.

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Garlic butter, anyone?

For those of you that don’t know, I prefer not to use chemical warfare. In an ideal world, there would be a natural balance and slugs and snails would be dealt with by a plethora of birds, frogs, hedgehogs and badgers. In reality, I live on a 1980s housing estate with no trees, surrounded by people who jauntily sprinkle non-organic slug pellets over every horizontal surface in their garden. So, there’s no hope of balance here. I do try to encourage predators by having a pond and a space for hedgehogs to get under the fence, but there is still imbalance. I’m overrun with slugs and snails.

Organic gardening is often seen as the preserve of hippies and do-gooders. But the truth is, if you want to garden organically then you have to be prepared to kill things with your bare hands (or you can wear gloves, because slugs are slimy). Pointy Stick Patrol is a tried and trusted way for reducing the number of plants that are lost to slugs. My mother-in-law is a big fan of this method; her neighbours think she’s mad but her garden looks beautiful, so ner.

You will need:

  • A bucket of hot water
  • A pointy stick (optional- bamboo barbecue skewers work well)
  • A torch
  • An insatiable thirst for blood
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Instruments of death

If you’re not following me, all you have to do is get out there in the dark and catch the slimy buggers. Don’t leave the water hanging around because dead slugs and snails smell really, really bad. Like the last time your dog rolled in fox poo x 10 bad.

 

I’ve turned my unwitting children into caterpillar mass murderers

 

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Little Brownie

My daughters are 3 and 5 years old, so they love nothing more than poking about in the undergrowth looking for creepy crawlies. One of the best things about having children is that you have an excuse to join in with this sort of thing. This week we’ve found loads of caterpillars, and not just the usual ‘get the $&@% off my brassicas’ sort.

Find number one was a little brown fella that was on one of my onions. He is a Bright-Line Brown-Eye moth caterpillar (Lacanobia oleracea. I think it must have been say-what-you-see day when his common name was dished out). I’ve been told that the dark spot at the back might be a parasite so we’ll see if Little Brownie makes it to adulthood or explodes in a scene reminiscent of the movie Alien.

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Speedy

Find number two was spotted by me while I was cutting off some chard leaves to make pesto. She is fairly massive and freaky-looking so of course we captured her to gawk at her fuzzy face. At least we know what she eats and going by the size of her, she surely must be close to pupating (is that a word? It is now). I think she might be a Buff Ermine Moth (Spilosoma lutea) caterpillar, being the inevitable result of this:

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Two moths getting busy

Another great thing about having children is that you can get them to do most jobs around the garden as long as you make it into a game (works best on under 7s). So the girls spent a good 15 minutes playing ‘who can put the most caterpillars in the garden waste bin’.

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Sneaky ninja masters of disguise caterpillars

OK, OK, it’s not nice. But it’s organic. The girls did a great job of clearing the Large (Pieris brassicae) and Small White (Pieris rapae) caterpillars off my Christmas dinner and into the bin, which is known to them as the ‘snail party bin’. Yes, I lie to my children that the snails are going to a big party to make them collect them up and put them in the bin. It’s not that bad. I’m pretty sure they don’t actually believe it.

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Easier to spot but good at hiding, and much hungrier

Anyone who’s ever grown brassicas will know how destructive cabbage white caterpillars can be. If you don’t have any small children and there are none nearby that you can borrow (check with their parents first), then there are other ways to deal with caterpillars organically.

You can manually remove eggs and caterpillars from plants. This is only practical if you have just a few plants though.

You can net plants to prevent butterflies from landing on them. This is pretty effective and doesn’t cost loads.

You can plant nasturtiums as a sacrificial crop. You can either plant it next to your brassicas and then remove leaves with caterpillars or eggs on, or you can plant it somewhere else and let the caterpillars live their lives in peace, far away from your beloved caulis.

I do have a caterpillar patch in my garden, I don’t mind a few garden ‘pests’. Could be worse.

If any of my IDs are wrong, please let me know. I’m not an entomologist. I had to look that up just to make sure I was spelling it right.